Personnel: Black Stone Cherry (percussion); Ryan Stiles, Jonas Butler (horns); Kevin McKendree (organ, keyboards); Jeff Boggs, Brandon Henbest (percussion); Sandra Dye, Bianca Byrd (background vocals).
The rowdy, retro-rockers' third release in two years, Family Tree delivers a loose but punchy set of crispy Deep South confections that radiate both swagger and soul. The follow-up to 2016's full-length Kentucky and 2017's covers EP Black to Blues, the 13-track set administers copious amounts of greasy Southern rock riffage, and like its predecessor, it was self-produced and tracked at Barrick Recording in Glasgow, Kentucky -- the band recorded their eponymous debut there in 2006. Freed from the constraints of a major label, Kentucky saw Black Stone Cherry returning to their roots, and Family Tree is a like-minded beast, drawing as much from Memphis soul as it does from the boogie-blasted sweet spot between ZZ Top and David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. The latter disposition looms large throughout, with the one-two punch of lead singles "Bad Habit" and "Burnin'" piling on the muscle and aiming for the nosebleed seats, but "My Last Breath", with its breezy electric piano, Stax-inspired brass, and heartfelt lyrics aimed at loved ones both here and departed, feels better suited for a Bloody Mary-heavy Gospel brunch. Elsewhere, "Ain't Nobody" staggers, shimmies, and shakes with all the bluesy bravado of Led Zeppelin's "Custard Pie, while "Southern Fried Saturday Night," with its snarling talk-box lead and good-time country boy grandstanding, feels like a stadium-sized Tim McGraw jam performed by Alice in Chains. Despite some subtle shifts in tone, the rest of Family Tree follows suit, doling out the decibels and hard rock tropes with workmanlike precision, while maintaining a homespun sense of community that appeals to anybody who has put in a full week, and just wants to let some air out of their tires. ~ James Christopher Monger